Tuesday 15 March 2011

Show Biz Wonderland

I think we're finally living in the sort of house that a bohemian pop star couple should live in. White walls, tasteful pale grey woodwork - a perfect backdrop for all the artworks, trophies and trinkets that we've picked up on our exotic travels though Show Biz Wonderland.

Admittedly we don't have a walk-in wardrobe or dressing room (walk-in wardrobe??!! I sound more like an estate agent than a pop artiste) lined with fantastic stage costume creations, all mirrors and rhinestones, from the zips and leather and safety pins of our humble punk beginnings, the padded shoulders and velvet knickerbockers of our unfortunate eighties New Romantic period, the Nudie suits from our country phase, cuban heels and flat heels and stack heels, wigs and hairpieces and codpieces and mirkins... (Mirkins? Fuck no - I draw the line at pubic wigs).

Anyway, there's none of that - we've got rid of every piece of clothing that we can't fit into, wore out the mirkins weeks ago using them to wipe down paintwork. And the artworks, trophies and trinkets, such as they are, are all stashed away in the attic where they won't put off the queue of perspective buyers who have as yet failed to answer any of our adverts.

We haven't got a hot tub or a jacuzzi either. In fact we haven't even got a bath tub - just one of those weird French hipbath things that are neither bath nor shower, but would probably make an ideal receptacle in which to sponge down an old lady. Or gentleman - I don't want to be accused of sexism here.

The lack of a real bathroom shouldn't worry us too much because I think everyone knows that the godlike status of Pop Icon puts us above all that - hygiene, sanitation, toilet paper - we have no need of these things.

It may be a problem if some lesser mortals decide to buy our house. And this is a thought that has depressed me in the last week. I spent days routing through junk in the studio, coiling leads and sorting through tape reels, finally letting go of things that won't ever get fixed - useful things that are forever completely beyond repair. I had plenty of time to think about what we've achieved in this eighteen foot by ten foot room with its high tongue and groove ceiling and triple glazed window to front affording magnificent views across surrounding countryside. Amy and I have made two albums in this room, plus the forthcoming Rotifer album, the Gil Rose & Les Hydropathes album Haute et Courte, plus various tracks for forty-fives and compilation albums. Amy and I learned to trust each others judgement in this room. We both developed musically and I gained confidence as a recording engineer. All those recordings - Here Comes My Ship, Bobblehead Doll, The Downside Of Being A Fuck-Up, Astrovan, Put A Little Love In Your Heart, A Taste Of The Keys, Walls, Teflon Wok, I Wanna Be Your Happiness, Please Be Nice To Her, Silver Shirt to name a few - they all came out of this room. In a few months time it could be the living room of a glum family. They'll sit in here watching TV, oblivious to the past history of this wonderful room.

Or maybe someone will turn it into an art studio and paint masterpieces in here, or write a book - Amy's written most of a book in the room above, plus all her great diary entries, all the while being vibrated and occasionally deafened by the swirling aural chaos coming up through the floor. That tongue and groove let through more sound than I ever thought it would. It was varnished dark brown woodstain when we moved in, I painted every inch of it several times with a brush until it achieved the grubby white finish it has today. I hope the buying public don't look up too closely...

We put the house on sale yesterday, and today we're going on tour for a couple of weeks. Just as well because we don't want to leave sticky paw prints and coffee mug rings everywhere. We also need to see if we can still play music after three months work in what you might call the arse-crack sector. We'll be finding out tomorrow night in Innsbruck.

Meanwhile if you're looking for a dez rez in glorious South West France at a knockdown price look no further than here:
We'll pick you up at the airport in a couple of weeks time. Don't forget your cheque book!

Friday 4 March 2011

Everything must go... somewhere

I've just started to dismantle parts of the studio in attempt to make it look more like a family living room and less like a madcap science laboratory crossed with counter espionage and propaganda headquarters from a low grade B movie. I don't know how I've managed to collect and hang on to so much junk over the years, but I've decided it's someone else's turn to own some of it. I'm going to have a sale, and to that end I've been photographing every random piece of electrical equipment ready to advertise it all on my website, put it on ebay, hold an open house yard sale type of event...

Would somebody like to make an offer for a Lamb Laboratories 24 volt power supply? I've had it since 1988 when somebody gave me a four channel Revox mixing desk which I had repaired at great expense only to find that it was even more crappy sounding than the Wem Audiomaster five channel desk which I eventually used to mix Le Beat Group Electrique and The Donovan Of Trash. Those records were in mono because the Audiomaster only had one output and anyway it's a bit difficult to mix four tracks into useful stereo. It all worked out quite well on Le Beat Group - I remember it well, track one for the bass, track two was the guitar and drumkit, track three for the vocals (which I did live along with the guitar, bass and drums), leaving track four for all the overdubs.
The overdub sessions were a great laugh - I can vividly recollect playing the organ with one hand, shaking a rhythmically sketchy maraca with the other and almost headbutting the front of Andre's acoustic guitar held up to the vocal mike as we lunged for a backing vocal... It was desperate but the energy level was good. We lived on cups of tea, chocolate digestives bscuits and nervous energy - dropping in and out, trying for a modicum of perfection without erasing any of the good bits. The horrified shout of "turn it off!!!" just before True Happiness is the real thing - I'd left Andre recording bits of dialogue from a Will Hay film on the TV while I was in the kitchen making yet another pot of tea. I suddenly realised that our attempts to create an interweaved sound collage to introduce the song was about to actually obliterate the song itself.

I didn't know how to edit tape in those days so the final three songs, Fuck By Fuck, Parallel Beds and True Happiness had to be mixed in one go. I think it was eleven minutes in total and I had to work out all the level changes and echo effects and then mix it down to 1/4" two track tape in glorious mono in one go. I got it just about right the first time and decided to live with it because I didn't think my delicate nerves could stand another run through. After all, I'd only been out of the mental hospital for six months.
For the past couple of years we've had a Farfisa home organ in our hallway. Some of the noises that make up the Bobblehead Doll loop came from it, although they were distorted way beyond what they originated as, slowed down, reversed and edited together with I can't even remember what now. Amy just put the organ up for sale on a site for English ex-pats. We've had quite a success selling stuff there - we got rid of the ambulance and a hideous woodburner which was little more than a metal box from Spain with a door on the front. Come to think of it the ambulance was little more than a metal box from Italy masquerading as a Peugeot, not that that's got much to do with anything.

I'm secretly hoping that no one wants the Farfisa home organ - I had to confess to Amy that when I'm home alone I sometimes freak out on it for ten minutes. The thing holds such recording promise if only I could get around to it, harness the moment. It has automation, meaning that when you select bossa nova, disco or rock 1 or rock 2, it plays a sort of bass arpeggio and you can switch on a setting that throws in a vamping off beat.
Amy's just come up the stairs to tell me we've had two replies to the advert. 'Wouldn't it be great,' she said 'if somebody came and picked it up tomorrow.' I tried not to look too crestfallen. I may have to down tools and make a recording tomorrow morning. Surely there'll be a home organ or two in the United States.
The same goes for amplifiers. There are a lot of great amplifiers over there. I hope they haven't all found permanent homes - most of mine are going to be re-homed before we go. But not the Selmer Truvoice 50 that I use on stage, so don't anyone get over-excited.
And if anyone's after the Wem Audiomaster it's presently residing in a house near Chartres where it's been in storage since the last time I left France. I must go and pick it up - would it be too ridiculously sentimental to hang on to it?

Two days have passed while I searched for the battery charger for the camera so that I can upload some of these scintillating photos, and in the meantime the advert has been answered. A nice man called Tim came and took the organ away. I'm sad to think that all those fabulous tracks I had planned are destined to become just a fading memory in the back of my overcrowded mind - I never had time to down tools and make the recording. Now the hallway looks naked to me. But very desirable - naked and desirable, minimal and buyable. Tim used to be a DJ on Radio Caroline, he remembers The Blockheads when they were Loving Awareness. We had a good chat. He told me all his vinyl, three thousand albums in total, is in storage but before he packed it away and moved house he decided to listen to all of them in alphabetical order, one album a day. It took him five years and his wife left him during the Frank Zappa section.

This is a photo of the fireplace in our kitchen. I didn't tear it out of a magazine, it's real. Someone is going to love this house. Please...

Sunday 20 February 2011

Padam, Padam, Pa-fucking-dam

I looked into the blackness and asked if everything was all right. I didn't really care one way or the other, but I was curious. We'd played six songs so far and the only reaction was a clapping clatter of the sort you might hear at a village cricket match when the away team scores two runs. I could tell that a good time was not being had. During the preceding number it had briefly crossed my mind that I've seen people having more fun at just about every funeral I've ever attended. I thought perhaps a tragedy of some sort had struck the audience and we'd somehow missed it.
I wasn't ready for the response:
Le son est affreux...
Le sono est terrible...
Les instruments sont trop fort - on ne peut pas entendre les paroles...
The sound is awful - the PA is terrible - the instruments are too loud, one can't hear the lyrics.
I wanted to be nice about - that is, I didn't want the evening to end early and on a sour note, and for us to leave without getting paid. I wanted to say "Are you fucking stupid? You're all French, most of you don't understand English which is the language we're singing in, and you wouldn't understand the lyrics if they climbed up the seam of your fleece and bit you on the ear."
But that would never do.
Instead I started to say "Well, you would think that because you see, you're French, and this is rock 'n' roll and you don't really understand it - in fact you're barely qualified to even listen to it".
But I was getting into deep water with that so I changed tack and gently explained that the lyrics don't actually mean anything, they're just a noise that goes along with everything else, the sound of the instruments and so forth, so in fact they weren't actually missing anything at all. Then I pushed the master fader up on the PA so that there was a slight, desperate ring of feedback, and we carried on, louder and slightly more insecure than before.
I think you would have had to have been deaf as a fucking coot and psychologically blocked not to hear the singing. After we'd finished we met up with the remaining members of the audience, the ones that hadn't fled to God knows what personal misery they spend their time wallowing in, the well-balanced ones, the ones that like us. We were assured that the sound was good, perfect even.
It hurts me to see Amy leave the stage depressed and feeling like jacking it all in. But it happens every time we play in France. We perform in front of scowling people, fingers in their earholes, pain and bewilderment on their faces. I can only think they're too stupid to realise that they could actually leave. A cretinous man approached us at one place and asked us to turn down. "You sing very well, and the madamoiselle too" he added, "but the instruments are too loud - we can't hear ourselves talking well enough to hold a conversation."
We've been expected to carry on while moronic French skinheads sing rugby songs and Padam Padam Pa-fucking-dam, while people clatter in and out of the door as though it was a bus station, tossing a glance of total incomprehension (of everything in the whole bloody universe) our way as they pass in front of us. We've even had a four year old yelling at us to stop while his horrible family held a noisy birthday party for him, oblivious to the small but appreciative, and increasingly irritated audience that had come to hear us play.
France doesn't deserve us and I don't know what we've done to deserve France.

But at least France doesn't know, or care who we are. So for a brief while it doesn't matter that I'm not allowed to be me on Facebook any more.